eCommerce Automation Is The Trick To GrowthNovember 28, 2017 - Milen Vasilev
eCommerce automation is the only way to grow your business operations and revenue in a sustainable way. However, the term doesn’t necessarily mean leaving everything to robots and algorithms. Automation is done with the help of both apps and platforms, and the addition of team members.
In a perfect world, you would be able to automate everything and achieve the elusive 4-hour work week.
In reality, however, things are not that simple. eCommerce automation is a process that takes planning, research, and often tedious implementation.
It works best for tasks that are confined to the digital world. Luckily, there are numerous platforms out there that can help you. When it comes to the more complex tasks of connecting the physical world with the digital, you usually need some combination of platforms, a human touch, and creativity.
Logistics can be scary and super time-consuming. Order fulfillment is the backbone of your operations and one of your most complex processes. That is why many eCommerce businesses start off by automating it and choose to drop ship.
On the other hand, if you’d rather do everything in-house, you need to have the right resources to invest in scaling the infrastructure yourself.
If that’s not up your alley, outsourcing order fulfillment to an automated secondary platform is a terrific option.
One of the prime examples of quality fulfillment and logistics is Amazon. But there are many other companies out there, both domestic and foreign, that offer great physical and cloud infrastructure… and integrate with most of the leading eCommerce hosting platforms (like Shopify and WooCommerce).
Here are a few notable examples:
- Oberlo – Platform that automates your order processing.
- Darkstore – Provider of full-stack fulfillment.
- Fulfillify – Provider of US fulfillment with a precision, technology-driven operation.
- Whiplash – Highly scalable modern fulfillment provider.
Specialized providers can not only offer better margins, but they are also better equipped to scale when your volumes pick up.
Nobody likes to count endless piles of products, but inventory management is something eCommerce stores of all size face. While you might be tempted to do it manually if your volume is low, using a secondary platform is a must when you expand your product line and scale.
Ideally, you want a cloud-based solution that integrates with your store’s or marketplace’s hosting platform.
The key is to find a SaaS platform that integrates with most of the tools you already use and can scale with you. Your goal is to minimize errors and speed things up, ideally generating reorder suggestions and even sending emails directly to your suppliers.
StitchLabs, for example, is an inventory management software that integrates with all major hosting platforms.
Accounting & Payroll
Accounting and payroll is not something to be taken lightly even if you are running a small eCommerce operation with just a few employees. Spreadsheets can only be optimized so much, and filing away invoices and documents is not fun.
At some point, it is worth it to delegate these tasks to one of the many secondary platforms that can automate your accounting, time tracking, and invoice payments.
Keep in mind that some of the SaaS companies out there offer full-stack accounting services while others need to be managed by an in-house accountant or a third-party. Whichever solution you choose, automating accounting is a must-do step to scale and get your hands free from routine paperwork.
Some of the leading providers include:
- QuickBooks – All-around solution with invoicing and payments.
- Xero – Highly integrated accounting solution.
- Bill.com – One-stop-shop for all financial transactions.
- Gusto – Simplicity-boasting, powerful payroll platform.
Have you ever gone through a whole day and wondered how you got so little done? You probably lost a lot of time in those small, forgettable tasks that take away from your focus and interrupt your day.
That is what platforms like If This Then That and Zapier are best for. They create custom solutions that link different apps and platforms, like merging meeting apps with calendars. They can also repost your social media posts across channels and keep your team updated on key happenings.
Your team also probably loses loads of time trying to get your product photos just right. If so, consider automating your product photo editing with apps like Pixc. You upload your images and get them back within 24 hours, professionally edited and uniform on a cleat-cut white background. You can try Pixc for free here.
Nothing turns people away from automation more than the thought that it is just a cold interaction with a computer located halfway around the world.
In customer service, in particular, it is important to keep in an element of human touch. Automating customer support, therefore, is always a combination of apps, platforms, and talented virtual assistants who are trained to resolve complex issues with a calm and friendly voice.
As you grow, you will need ever more phone lines and VAs, but you can also be proactive about limiting calls and emails in innovative ways. Create interactive FAQ pages that answer routine questions your customers ask and update them often as new issues arise. You can even hand your FAQs to a chatbot like Gobot that is nested in the corner of your store and ready to delight.
Make reaching you more casual and easy to both delight customers and save time.
When call volumes become hard to manage, consider employing one the leading customer service platforms like Zendesk or Desk.com. They can really help you structure and streamline your incoming tickets so your representatives are more productive.
Likewise, consider adding a live chat feature like Chatra to your store, where quick inquiries can be made, shaving off calls from your main lines.
Returns and Exchanges
Furthermore, you can add more grace to your return and exchange process by automating certain aspects of it. You will still need an employee to handle the transaction, at least with the current state of automation, but you can use apps to speed things up.
Major hosting platforms, like Shopify and BigCommerce, boast great tools and integrations that help you create exchange orders super easy. To further speed things up, create a step-by-step process and put it on paper so your VAs can study the flow and become more efficient at it.
We have put cart abandonment as its own category because it is so important. 68% of all shopping carts are abandoned, but you can improve on this dreary reality with different forms of automated messages.
The best way to reduce cart abandonment is with automated emails, popups, and chatbots that offer a discount, free shipping or another incentive. Often, carts are abandoned because of technical issues, credit card rejections, or site bugs, so reaching out and offering help can delight your customers and close a sale that was dropped not because of lack of interest.
One thing you can’t automate is content creation. The AI that can make people laugh and create emotional bonds with your content has, unfortunately, not been invented yet. But you can automate the posting and scheduling of your updates for the months ahead.
The key to success in social media is consistency and always offering something fresh to your audience. Luckily, you can employ interactive calendars and scheduling tools that do the posting for you. And if you train a dedicated part-time VA to handle those tools, you will spend your time much more effectively by investing in growth initiatives instead.
Some of the leading social media scheduling tools include Hootsuite, Buffer and CoSchedule. Mention is another option which alerts you when conversations about your brand occur online so you can stay in the loop. And Quuu is a useful SaaS tool for content suggestions.
Automating your emails is a must. For a modern eCommerce business, manual email management is just too much to handle. For one thing, consumers have grown to expect certain information arriving in their inboxes – promptly and clearly. For another, you can also use automated email to send regular special offers or updates.
Here are the types of email you should be sending:
- Abandoned cart
- Order confirmation
- Shipping notification
- Follow up
- Special offers
- Relevant content
Paid Advertising and Data Reporting
In this category, you are in luck because technology has made reporting and scheduling ads a breeze.
You can easily create dynamic automated reports that give you insight into your ads’ performance and store engagement. You can use tools like Google Data Studio to import data from Google Analytics, Facebook or just about any other source, and display it in beautiful interactive dashboards.
Once you set up the flow of data, reporting is dynamic and automatically updates for the next period. You get a shareable link and can distribute your reports to everyone who needs to see them. You just saved yourself an hour each week.
In addition, you can employ Adwords scripts to automate and fine-tune your PPC efforts. Consider using scripts to modify bids on an hourly basis based on the competition so you don’t overbid. Also, employ them to automatically disable ads or keywords for out-of-stock items, update ad parameters by ad groups, and other key tweaks.
The bottom line is: eCommerce automation is the most effective way to scale your online store. That is why it is vital to stay informed on the latest automation platforms and apps offering solutions to key eCommerce needs and adopt the ones that best fit your model. You may not be able to boil down your responsibilities to 4 hours per week but you can certainly save a few hours that you can invest in strategic growth initiatives.